Oleg Kharkhordin has constructed a compelling, subtle, and complex genealogy of the Soviet individual that is as much about Michel Foucault as it is about Russia. Examining the period from the Russian Revolution to the fall of Gorbachev, Kharkhordin demonstrates that Party rituals—which forced each Communist to reflect intensely and repeatedly on his or her "self," an entirely novel experience for many of them—had their antecedents in the Orthodox Christian practices of doing penance in the public gaze. Individualization in Soviet Russia occurred through the intensification of these public penitential practices rather than the private confessional practices that are characteristic of Western Christianity. He also finds that objectification of the individual in Russia relied on practices of mutual surveillance among peers, rather than on the hierarchical surveillance of subordinates by superiors that characterized the West. The implications of this book expand well beyond its brilliant analysis of the connection between Bolshevism and Eastern Orthodoxy to shed light on many questions about the nature of Russian society and culture.
Oleg Kharkhordin is Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University, and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences and Sociology, European University at St. Petersburg.
"A brilliant analysis. Using an extraordinary amount of rich and unusual primary sources and a remarkable array of theoretical insights, the author analyzes the role of the individual and individualism throughout the whole Communist period. It is one of the best works of sociology that I have read in recent years, and may be the most brilliant and provocative work that I have ever read on the Soviet Union."—Tim McDaniel, author of Autocracy, Capitalism, and Revolution in Russia